Why Personhood and Equal Rights for Women is a Life and Death Matter and a Human Rights Issue

  FACT SHEET:

By Jacqueline S. Homan, author of Eyes of a MonsterClassism for Dimwits and Divine Right: The Truth is a Lie

Part I: Why Pregnancy and Childbirth Must Be Voluntary and Planned — No Matter What

In all of the abortion and contraception “debates”, the rigors and hazards of pregnancy and childbirth and the ramifications of forcing women to go through that against our will gets conveniently ignored and brushed aside as if anything women are forced to suffer somehow doesn’t matter. This report shows the legal, ethical, medical and humanitarian claims that support a woman’s human right to bodily autonomy and bodily integrity, particularly with respect to reproductive health choices.

Anti-abortion/anti-contraception groups and well-heeled religious lobbies downplay the trauma, risks, side effects, pain, disfigurement and injuries that even “good” pregnancies impose on women. Fake crisis pregnancy centers don’t mention these risks or do referrals for women who cannot go through/do not want to go through an unplanned pregnancy. Mandatory ultrasound laws and waiting periods in several states place an undue burden on women seeking abortion and these laws also require doctors to lie to their pregnant patients about the risks and hazards of their pregnancies and giving birth, and the presence of any condition or fetal abnormality that threatens the health and life of the pregnant woman and/or her fetus.

Getting stuck in traffic is an inconvenience, being forced by public law and policy to go through pregnancy and childbirth against your will while having to suffer any or all of the inherent risks and side effects is not.

Normal or expectable side effects of pregnancy:

  • exhaustion
  • gestational diabetes – can remain permanent as Type II diabetes
  • altered appetite
  • nausea and vomiting
  • heartburn and indigestion
  • constipation
  • weight gain
  • hypothyroidism
  • dizziness and light-headedness
  • bloating, swelling, fluid retention
  • hemorrhoids
  • hematoma (usually on the vulva but can be on the inside of the vagina)
  • abdominal cramps
  • yeast infections
  • congested/bloody nose
  • acne and skin disorders
  • skin discoloration
  • mild to severe backache and strain
  • increased headaches
  • difficulty/discomfort with sleeping
  • increased urination/incontinence
  • gum disease (leading to premature tooth loss)
  • pica
  • breast pain and discharge
  • swelling of joints, leg cramps, joint pain
  • difficulty sitting/standing in later pregnancy
  • inability to take regular medications
  • shortness of breath
  • higher blood pressure
  • hair loss (this is a permanent side effect)
  • anemia
  • inability to participate in some sports and activities
  • high susceptibility to infection (pregnant women have a much lower immunity to illness, infection and disease than non-pregnant women or men because the pregnant woman’s immune system has to literally shut down so her system’s antibodies don’t attack the implanted fertilized ovum)
  • extreme pain during labor and delivery (which can last for several hours to several days)
  • hormonal mood changes, including post-partum depression
  • post-partum psychosis/birth related PTSD (caused by a birth that was traumatic for the woman)
  • extended post-partum recovery period and exhaustion (a difficult vaginal birth or a C-section can take a year or more to fully recover)

Normal, expectable, and frequent permanent side effects of pregnancy and birth:

  • stretch marks
  • loose skin
  • permanent weight gain or redistribution
  • permanent change to pelvic skeletal and ligament structure — it is not uncommon for a woman’s hips to be 4” wider than normal for the passage of the fetus during birth as her pelvic bone opens and ligaments stretch, and often this change is permanent, leaving many women unable to EVER get back into their pre-pregnancy clothes even if they lose ALL their pregnancy weight (leaving poor women, who are unable to afford to replace all their pre-pregnancy clothes, with absolutely nothing to wear except a couple pairs of oversized sweatpants and maybe one or two donated used maternity outfits)
  • abdominal and vaginal muscle weakness that Kegels won’t necessarily prevent, cure, or fix
  • pelvic organ damage (causing urinary and fecal incontinence and severely diminished quality of life, try re-entering the workforce with a problem like that!)
  • difficulty resuming employment due to lifting restrictions imposed by permanent pelvic floor damage from pregnancy stress and/or childbirth injuries.
  • changes to breasts (saggy and “deflated”)
  • varicose veins
  • disfigurement/scarring from episiotomy or C-section
  • other permanent aesthetic changes to the body (which can be devastating to a woman’s life chances for everything from finding a marriage partner to getting a good job in a culture that emphasizes women’s value on youth, thinness and beauty)
  • hemorrhoids
  • loss of dental or bone calcium (tooth decay/loss and osteoporosis)

Occasional complications and side effects:

  • invasive Strep-A infection (also known as “childbirth fever”; causes necrosis, leading to limb amputation and sometimes death)
  • domestic violence/murder (pregnant women are more at risk for being murdered by boyfriends and husbands than non-pregnant women)
  • hyperemesis gravidarum (severe morning sickness causing dehydration, malnourishment, and bodily stress that can lead to kidney failure)
  • obstructed labor (caused by fetal malpresentation, large babies, fetal shoulder dystochia resulting in internal pelvic organ tissues to necrotize)
  • permanent injury to back (late pregnancy and delivery)
  • severe lacerations, tissue scarring requiring surgery (especially after additional pregnancies)
  • prolapsed uterus/vagina (risk increases tremendously after additional pregnancies and pelvic floor weaknesses)
  • pre-eclampsia (the most common pregnancy complication — edema and hypertension associated with 10% of all pregnancies, mostly among older pregnant women; a precursor to eclampsia, which is fatal)
  • eclampsia (convulsions, seizures, coma during pregnancy or labor, fatal unless pregnancy is aborted)
  • gestational diabetes — often remains permanent in the form of Adult Type II diabetes resulting in permanent debilitating health condition requiring medication, frequently leading to blindness and limb amputations (aggravated by lack of ability to afford healthy food low in starches and sugars)
  • placenta previa (causes laboring women to bleed to death during delivery)
  • thrombocytopenic purpura (causing women to bleed to death during/immediately after birth)
  • severe cramping
  • embolism (blood clots, air bubbles, amniotic fluid bubbles escaping into circulatory system causing stroke or massive heart attack; usually fatal)
  • medical disability requiring total bed rest
  • diastasis recti (abdominal muscle separation/tears)
  • mitral valve stenosis (causes heart failure, stroke, and pulmonary edema)
  • lack of resistance to highly infectious diseases
  • hormonal imbalance (causes weight problems, depression, and breast and reproductive organ cancer)
  • ectopic pregnancy (fatal unless medically aborted)
  • broken bones (rib cage and lower spine from fetal pressure in late pregnancy and during delivery)
  • hemorrhage
  • refractory gastroesophegal reflux disease
  • aggravation of pre-pregnancy conditions/diseases (epilepsy, diabetes, heart condition, high blood pressure, etc)
  • permanently ruined sex life from injury to the nerves and tissues of the sexual organs (caused by 3rd and 4th degree vaginal tears, episiotomies received by 85-90% of all birthing women, paraurethral tract and parasympathetic nerve trauma, etc. during delivery often accompanied by permanent fecal and/or urinary incontinence)
  • elevated risks for certain cancers

Serious complications causing permanent problems associated with pregnancy, labor and delivery:

  • peripartum cardiomyopathy (weakened heart)
  • cardiopulmonary arrest (fatal: irreversible brain damage and death occurs within 4 minutes)
  • magnesium toxicity
  • severe hypoxemia/acidosis
  • massive embolism
  • increased inter-cranial pressure, brainstem infarction (An Alzheimer-like forgetfulness from brain matter shrinkage called “mommy brains”)
  • molar pregnancy/ gestational trophoblastic disease (a mass of abnormal/malignant tissue growth from the placenta)
  • malignant arrhythmia ( coronary artery spasms)
  • circulatory collapse
  • obstetric fistula – (tear/hole due to tissue damage from pressure to the area separating the vagina from the rectum or the vagina from the bladder; causing urine and/or feces to pass through the vagina uncontrollably. Fistulas require surgery and are not always able to be repaired 100% even after several subsequent surgeries)
  • colostomy – caused by an irreparable obstetric fistula and trauma to the internal pelvic organ system from pregnancy and giving birth

More permanent side effects:

  • poverty
  • future infertility
  • autoimmune disease
  • ovarian cancer
  • breast cancer
  • permanent disability
  • death

Since the passage of Roe v. Wade up until the recent Planned Parenthood clinic closings, 40 million women safely terminated unwanted pregnancies. During that same period, 21 million women died from pregnancy complications or during/shortly after giving birth. 400 million women have sustained debilitating permanent health problems, side effects, disabling childbirth injuries, and disfigurement which utterly destroyed their lives. A woman dies in childbirth every 90 seconds, according to WHO and Amnesty International. A trip to any old country cemetery will quickly verify the multitude of women’s premature deaths as casualties from men’s “right” to an orgasm at women’s expense. This is what male privilege costs women.

According to obstetric specialist and colorectal surgeon Dr. Michelle Thornton from the UK (which has a much better maternal health outcome than the US), about 40% of all women who have given birth sustain pelvic organ damage that Kegel exercises could not prevent or cure, leaving them with permanent fecal and urinary incontinence — undermining their confidence, ruining their sex lives and destroying their marriages/relationships, and decimating their ability to function at most jobs. Thornton states that the problem is underreported because women are too ashamed and embarrassed to tell their spouses and partners, let alone their doctors. Even when the surgical repair of fistulas caused by tears, episiotomies, and obstructed labor is successful, the physical limitations on women and compromised organ tissue’s integrity remains permanent; costing women everything from being able to participate fully in society to resuming a normal healthy sex life to re-entering the workforce or continuing their educations.

Maureen Treadwell of the Birth Trauma Association confirms this devastation and the unreported frequent occurrence of this “silent epidemic.” The trauma from the emotional and physical fallout left many women unable to contemplate another baby.

Many women’s bodies don’t handle pregnancy and childbirth well. Not all women will suffer the worst results and side effects but there is no way to accurately predict which women will and which ones won’t.

As to the claim that pregnancy and childbirth — particularly childbirth without adequate pain relief — is “natural to the female condition”; the natural course for appendicitis without unnatural man-made medical remedy is 30% chance of death from peritonitis. And if it’s “only natural” for all women to want to go through pregnancy and childbirth every year of their lives from puberty to menopause, then we don’t need any unnatural man-made laws to force women to go through it.

Human beings do not have a “reproductive drive”, we have a sex drive. The human sex drive extends far beyond childbearing years because the primary function for the human sex drive is the emotional pair-bonding even when childbearing is not desired or possible. The human sex drive is also the strongest natural force second only to the natural drive to defend one’s own life.

A marriage license will not prevent an unwanted and/or medically dangerous pregnancy and abstinence-only is a recipe for relationship failure in a nation with a 50% divorce rate.

Forced pregnancy and childbirth is no more moral than any other form of forced organ donation. No “pro-life” laws exist anywhere that force men to suffer trauma, pain, disfigurement and risk of death from mandatory kidney donation surgery to save the life of another — even if the person in need of it is his own child who would otherwise die without it. No one has the right to the use of, or to coerce the use of, another’s body — in whole or in part — against their will.

Consent to sex is not consent to pregnancy. Medical ethicist and philosophy professor David Boonin framed the argument supporting a woman’s right to choose based on consent. A woman has the right to refuse use of her body to support another potential human’s continued existence if:

  1. The cost is not trivial (even “good” pregnancies in healthy women of optimal childbearing age are non-trivial).
  2. The woman has not previously consented to the exact conditions of use, or the conditions which she consented to have changed.
  3. The woman does not owe the recipient (fetus) compensation for causing its worsened condition.

Boonin quite specifically excludes a woman who conceived following consensual sex from obligation to provide life support for that developing entity. The fetus would not have existed without this act and its accompanying male act, and is therefore better off — not worse off. The female host has not caused any harm to the fetus at all and is therefore not required to compensate it by being an incubator. The fetus on the other hand, is harming its host, and is therefore obligated to her. And the male that has caused the woman harm by impregnating her when she didn’t want to become pregnant is therefore obligated to compensate her.

Any woman who wants to gestate some man’s genetic material for his benefit in almost a year of involuntary servitude is more than welcome to do so. But no woman owes such sacrifice and martyrdom to anyone — especially not to a society that has always treated women like garbage; a society that grants full personhood to 15 second old zygotes and corporations while denying that very same status of personhood to the woman in whose body that zygote is being hosted.

Forcing women to get and remain pregnant against their will is a violation of human rights, period.

The idea that fetal pain matters but the pain, trauma and disfigurement women are expected to suffer in childbirth as a mandatory punishment for having sex shows just how easily the UN Convention of Torture can be subverted when it’s women being targeted for sexual and reproductive torture.

Denying women the human right to have control over what happens to our bodies by imposing a sexual double standard in denying us access to reliable contraception and abortion, and denying women adequate pain relief during childbirth without a scientifically valid reason (and there really isn’t any) while making sure Viagra and penis stents are legal, available, and covered by most insurance plans for any man that wants to have “recreational” sex — is state-sponsored discrimination, gender-specific torture and a crime against humanity.

The legal language in Article 1 of the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment spells out the definition of torture. This was ratified by the US Senate in 1994. Torture is the intentional infliction of severe mental or physical pain or suffering by, or with the consent of, state authorities for a specific purpose. Methods of torture include rape, sexual assault, and forced childbirth.

No matter how “pro-lifers”, social conservatives, and Christians want to spin it, the devastating effects and injuries of torture cannot be justified by “moral beliefs” or “faith.” In 2006, the same US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) that is today in 2012 promoting the sexual and reproductive torture of forced pregnancy and childbirth against an entire identifiable group of people (women), asserted that policies permitting torture and inhumane treatment are “shocking and morally intolerable.” The USCCB also said, “Let America abolish torture now — without exceptions.”

Apparently, abolishing torture “without exceptions” doesn’t apply to women. This same powerful Vatican lobby group promotes the torture of women and girls with forced childbirth, even at peril to our health and lives, by influencing Congress and shaping public policy to deprive women of access to contraceptives and abortion — even in cases of rape or where pregnancy will kill a woman. That’s what “conscience clause” laws and “fetal personhood” laws being pushed by sadistic misogynists under the respectable habiliments of “moral beliefs” and “religious liberty”: Torture and chattel enslavement of women, no matter the harm and cost to us.

 

Part II: Medical Ethics and Religious Liberty

This is not a question of “freedom of religion”, it is about women’s human rights, legal and judicial equity, and medical ethics that are being violated by others’ abuse of the extra privileges that religious organizations enjoy and use like a loaded weapon to push harmful laws and public policy that target women for harm and injustice based solely on women’s vulnerability to pregnancy and sexual violence in a culture of impunity centered on male privilege.

When religious hospitals, Christian doctors, nurses, midwives and pharmacists serve the public, they serve people of different faiths. At this point, a sectarian institution or an individual of a particular faith relinquishes the right to coerce or force others into following a particular religious doctrine or teaching.

According to the IRS, in order to qualify as a 501(3)(c) non-profit religious organization, churches and their affiliated organizations must:

  1. Not use a substantial part of their money or activities to attempt to influence legislation.
  2. Maintain purposes and activities that are legal.
  3. Not use their money and activities to intervene in political campaigns.
  4. Not violate fundamental laws and public policy.

Patient abandonment resulting in patient harm or death is criminal. Deliberate patient abandonment resulting in patient death is murder. Murder is a crime. No institution or individual has the right to torture, abuse, or murder pregnant women in the name of “religious liberty.” Sacrificing the health, wellbeing, and lives of women as a class due to “conscience clause” laws arising from states’ expansion of the Church Amendment (passed in 1973 immediately after the US Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade) enacted to protect “religious liberty” brings the entire American medical establishment, justice system, and system of government into disrepute.

Hemorrhage from ectopic pregnancies is the leading cause of maternal death in the first trimester of pregnancy. Management of ectopic pregnancy that saves the life of the mother includes the use of methotrexate (medical therapy), removal of the embryo (salpingostomy), removal of the section of fallopian tube (salpingectomy), and “expectant management” (waiting for the fallopian tube to burst and then using surgical intervention). Expectant management is the most painful and dangerous option and it is the only one that the “Directives” at Catholic hospitals permit, even though it has cost women their lives or left them permanently disabled.

The Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1395dd(e)-(e)(3)(B) requires hospitals to provide stabilizing treatment to patients with emergency medical conditions who seek care at emergency rooms. An “emergency medical condition” is defined as “a medical condition manifesting itself by acute symptoms of sufficient severity (including severe pain) such that the absence of immediate medical attention could reasonably be expected to result in: (A) placing the patient’s health in serious jeopardy, (B) serious impairment to bodily functions, or; (C) serious dysfunction of any bodily organ.

The Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Hospitals and Catholic-affiliated Healthcare Service Centers (the “Directives”) issued by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) prohibit abortion and prohibit health care providers from taking “direct action” against the embryo, even though ectopic pregnancies are not viable.

Patients with ectopic pregnancies, incomplete/inevitable miscarriages at Catholic hospital emergency rooms have been transferred to non-Catholic hospitals without treatment or stabilization. In some cases, patients could not be stabilized for transport to another facility.

Directive 47 allows for abortion to preserve the woman’s health or life, stating “Operations, treatments, and medications that have as their direct purpose the cure of a proportionately serious pathological condition of a pregnant woman are permitted when they cannot be safely postponed until the unborn child is viable, even if they will result in the death of the unborn child.”

But the interpretation of what constitutes a “serious pathological condition” has been left up to local bishops and Catholic medical ethics directors to decide — most whom have never gone through pregnancy and childbirth.

In November 2009, a 27 year old mother of 4 was admitted to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix, Arizona. She was 11 weeks pregnant. According to a hospital document, she had “right heart failure” from pregnancy-related pulmonary hypertension and continuing the pregnancy meant nearly 100% chance of maternal death. The patient was unable to be stabilized enough to be moved into the operating room, never mind stabilized enough to be transported to a non-Catholic hospital 90 miles away. Relying on Directive 47, Sister Margaret McBride on the ethics committee authorized the life-saving abortion. The mother survived. The nun who saved her life was fired from her job and excommunicated by Bishop Thomas Olmstead.[1]

Father John Ehrich, the medical ethics director for the Diocese of Phoenix, said, “There are some situations where the mother may in fact die along with her child. But — and this is the Catholic perspective — you can’t do evil to bring about good. The end does not justify the means.”

Father Ehrich also stated that “pregnant women should embrace death rather than having to live the rest of her existence knowing that she had an abortion.”

With medical ethics directors like Father John Ehrich sitting in positions of tremendous power, privilege and authority overseeing doctors and hospitals across the US, this country is not safe for women.

Bishop Thomas Olmstead affirmed the church position for letting women die from treatable pregnancy complications despite Directive 47 and wrote a letter to the USCCB defending that position, stating, “Abortion is always immoral, no matter the circumstances, and it cannot be permitted in any Catholic institution.”

The IBIS Reproductive Health Study in 2009[2] conducted for the National Women’s Law Center interviewed more than 1,500 physicians, administrators, and clinicians from 69 Catholic hospitals across the US. Some respondents spoke at length about the influence of state legislation on hospital practices and policies, particularly in the realm of emergency contraception, sterilization, and medical abortion. Doctors told of seeing women bleed to death from incomplete miscarriages[3] and seeing patients suffer in agony from fallopian tube rupture because of delays in treatment.

Several physicians expressed concerns of losing their hospital practicing privileges and their jobs if they violated the Directives even though doing so was in the patient’s best interests, even in life and death matters for the patients. Several physicians were reprimanded or demoted for violating the Directives by performing tubal ligations in cases where the patient requested it and where additional pregnancies would likely be fatal for them.

Lori Freedman, PhD at the Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health and Debra Stulberg, MD at the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Chicago conducted extensive research[4] on the effects on women when they’re denied bodily autonomy in reproductive health matters, specifically with respect to voluntary and/or medically advised sterilization when “moral beliefs” and “freedom of religion” is allowed to trump women’s basic human rights to life, bodily autonomy and bodily integrity.

Freedman’s and Stulberg’s research shows that the primary disadvantage for doctors working at Catholic hospitals (and the women they treat) was the inability to perform sterilizations, particularly following a C-section (eliminating the need and trauma of a second, separate surgery). This was supported by fact-finding research by the Center of Reproductive Rights and the IBIS Study in communities where previously secular hospitals came under Catholic control through mergers and acquisitions.

One doctor described the impact of the denial of sterilization to women per adherence to the Catholic doctrine[5]:

“There are only so many C-sections a woman should have. With each one the next pregnancy is markedly compromised. There is a higher risk the placenta can implant on the uterine scar. You can’t get the placenta out, there’s morbid hemorrhage. It’s absolutely unconscionable. The pope, the cardinal, the board is not going to be there, not going to be here when she is hemorrhaging, bloody, you can’t see, it’s horrible, the uterus is cut, and she needs a massive transfusion. Six months later she still looks awful, like death warmed over; she can’t take care of the little ones she has.”

For women with difficulty accessing reliable long-term contraception, sometimes sterilization is the only viable option. Denying women that option has been fatal. All of the doctors interviewed in this exhaustive research endeavor told stories of women under their care who had been unable to obtain reliable birth control and sterilizations who had subsequently gotten pregnant when they did not want to and were medically advised not to, and one woman who requested a tubal ligation but couldn’t get it had 6 children and had ended up dying in childbirth as the result of an unwanted additional pregnancy.

For many women, a post-partum sterilization is recommended when additional pregnancies are not only undesired but would also threaten the woman’s health. Refusing to perform a requested sterilization, especially immediately following a childbirth, means denying women patients wanted and needed medical care that can even mean denying women their right to life. It also imposes the undue burden of additional costs in terms of money and physical recuperation time for a second, separate surgery.

For women for whom immediate post-partum sterilization is desired and/or medically advised, refusal to allow this procedure to be performed based on “moral beliefs” of practitioners and religious directives to which hospitals subscribe amounts to unethical and immoral denial of care.

Standards of care are defined as the practices that are medically necessary and the services that any practitioner under any circumstances should be expected to render. The ACOG has recognized that a patient’s health should always come first, and that access to health services should be based on the patient’s medical needs, not the provider’s personal or religious beliefs. In a recent Committee on Ethics Opinion[6], the ACOG states that the patient’s autonomy, and physical and mental health, limits the physician’s ability to refuse. The ACOG recommends that a provider’s personal beliefs can be accommodated only when the primary duty to the patient can be fulfilled.

But the American Medical Association (AMA) caved in to the pressures exerted by the all-male Catholic Church hierarchy, even though it too has previously addressed conscientious refusals in the context of hospital mergers. Despite the AMA core principle of medical ethics that states “a physician, while caring for a patient, must regard responsibility to the patient as paramount”, the AMA allowed for a watered-down resolution that reaffirmed the importance of access to reproductive health care but also stated that “medical professionals and hospitals should not be required to violate personally held moral principles.”

Denials of care by refusal of medical goods and services based on religious and “moral” objections have expanded to include the right not to provide care, not to provide referrals, and not to offer information (even if the patient requests it) about a range of legally available care and legally approved pharmaceuticals. Decisions to deny information and medical services based on “moral” and religious beliefs rather than scientific and medical evidence has resulted in poor health outcomes for women. Nearly every “moral objection” invoked under the cover of religious liberty exclusively targets women for the reproductive health conditions solely experienced by women.[7]

The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) in attempting to “balance the interests” and acknowledge the legitimate place for individual medical practitioner conscience in medicine also warns that “conscience may conflict with professional and ethical standards and result in inefficiency, adverse outcomes, violation of patients’ rights, and erosion of trust if one’s conscience limits the information and care provided to a patient.”

The ACOG notes that “conscience clause” related refusals of medical procedures and pharmaceuticals almost always without exception occurs in the realm of women’s reproductive health. The ACOG states: “It is not uncommon for conscientious refusals to result in imposition of religious or moral beliefs on a patient who may not share those beliefs, which may undermine respect for patient autonomy. Women’s informed requests for contraception or sterilization are an important expression of autonomous choice regarding reproductive decision-making. Refusals to dispense contraception may constitute a failure to respect women’s capacity to decide for themselves whether and under what circumstances to become pregnant.”

Addressing tubal ligation specifically, the ACOG Ethics Committee Opinion states: “Although conscientious refusals stem in part from the commitment to ‘first do no harm’, their results can be just the opposite…religiously based refusals to perform tubal ligations at the time of Cesarean delivery can place a woman in harm’s way — either by putting her at risk for an undesired pr unsafe pregnancy or by necessitating an additional, separate sterilization procedure with all its attendant and additional risks.”

The American tradition is one of preserving a neutral position towards religion in order to allow believers of many faiths including non-believers in any faith, to work and live alongside one another peaceably under one common government. This requires respect for one another’s human rights, mutual tolerance, and practical accommodations. No purity for any specific religion and its members can be expected under this arrangement because the US is not a theocracy nor does is the government allowed to favor one religion and its members over everyone else.

Religious organizations cannot discriminate against employees of a different race or gender, or dictate how employees spend their paychecks. They cannot discriminate when hiring for non-clergy positions, even within a church. And they cannot use their religious or “moral” beliefs as grounds to deny another person, or class of persons, human rights to bodily autonomy and bodily integrity.

But social and religious conservatives and the Vatican’s political lobby group, the USCCB, have violated this arrangement. They have hijacked every aspect of our common government from Congress to state legislatures to the Supreme Court to government agencies that make public policies behind closed doors. And they have declared a War on Women with acts of legislative and judicial aggression that translate to real physical aggression and harm specifically against women and girls.

The issue is not whether religious liberty should be further protected — but whose religious liberty deserves the protection of the law, and at what cost in terms of real tangible harm to whom.

Congress, state lawmakers, and judges are ruling on case law, passing amendments and enacting legislation that create a far-reaching power — on “moral” or religious grounds — to trespass on the inalienable human rights and religious liberty of individuals. This violates the spirit of the establishment clause of the First Amendment. And it allows petty tyranny to trump bodily autonomy and bodily integrity, and gender discrimination to prevail over equity and fairness.

The Institute of Medicine, the ACOG, and women who are vulnerable to pregnancy and all its inherent risks and side effects are more qualified to decide the merits of contraception, abortion, and voluntary sterilization than clergymen and a group of historically privileged people (men) that will never suffer the consequences of unwanted and/or medically dangerous pregnancy, pregnancy complications, maternal disability, or maternal death.

The ACOG Ethics Committee proposed the following recommendations for medical professionals’ consciences without compromising the health and wellbeing of the women they serve:

  1. In the provision of reproductive services, the patient’s wellbeing must be paramount. Any conscientious refusal that conflicts with a patient’s wellbeing should be accommodated only if the primary duty to the patient can be fulfilled.
  2. Health care providers must impart accurate and unbiased information so that patients can make informed decisions about their health care. They must disclose scientifically accurate and professionally accepted characterizations of reproductive health services.
  3. Where conscience implores physicians to deviate from standard practices, including abortion, sterilization, and provision of contraceptives, they must provide potential patients with accurate and prior notice of their personal moral commitments. In the process of providing prior notice, physicians should not use their professional authority to argue or advocate these positions.
  4. Physicians and other health care professionals have the duty to refer patients in a timely manner to other providers if they do not feel that they can in conscience provide the standard reproductive services that their patients request or need.
  5. In an emergency in which referral is not possible or might negatively affect a patient’s physical or mental health, providers have an obligation to provide medically indicated and requested care regardless of the provider’s personal moral objections.
  6. In resource-poor areas, access to safe and legal reproductive services should be maintained. Conscientious refusals that undermine access should raise significant caution. Providers with moral or religious objections should either practice in proximity to individuals [other providers] who do not share their views or ensure that referral processes are in place so that patients have access to the service that the physician does not wish to provide. Rights to withdraw from caring for an individual should not be a pretext for interfering with patients’ rights to health care services.
  7. Lawmakers should advance policies that balance protection of providers’ consciences with the critical goal of ensuring timely, effective, evidence-based, and safe access to all women seeking reproductive services.

But this “balance” framed within the ACOG Committee’s recommendations is not what’s happening. When University of California student Heather Minton was raped in Riverside on a Friday evening in November 2003 and had a friend take her to the emergency room of the local hospital, Minton was denied emergency contraception at the Riverside Community Hospital. The ER nurse told Minton’s friend that if Minton hadn’t been raped she wouldn’t treat her, and suggested they try another hospital ER a half-hour’s drive away[8]. Emergency contraception is time-sensitive: it must be taken within 72 hours of the unprotected sex act to prevent pregnancy.

Minton said, “When we got to the emergency room, I was hysterical. No one knew what had happened to me, just that I had had sex and I wanted EC. But the nurse sent us to another hospital. It was after 2 AM, and we didn’t know where we were going or whether they’d refuse to treat me too.”

State laws have been giving hospitals, doctors, nurses, SANE’s, and pharmacists the right to refuse to offer emergency contraception or even prescribe birth control, fill birth control prescriptions, or provide IUD’s, shots, implants, low-hormone vaginal rings, diaphragms and cervical caps — all of which require an exam and fitting or insertion from a medical professional — since the 1990’s when states began aggressively expanding the Church Amendment (passed on the heels of Eisenstadt v. Baird in 1972 and Roe v. Wade in 1973 in the name of “religious liberty.”).

Since the 2010 mid-term Congressional elections, 1,100 more laws were proposed — and many were passed — that has made safe legal abortion and contraception access nearly insurmountable for millions of American women.

Because these conscientious refusal policies are rarely publicized, and often it is a discretionary matter left to the individual medical professional or pharmacist, it is unbelievably difficult for women seeking emergency contraception to know who they can trust will help them and who won’t. Delays can render time-sensitive emergency contraception, birth control refills, including replacement IUD’s, ineffective. The result is that women and girls are being forced to become pregnant against their will, at peril to their health and lives, traumatizing them, stripping them of their human dignity, and effectively violating rape victims after the rapist violated them initially.

Riverside Community Hospital declined to comment. Spokesmen for HCA, the corporation that owns the hospital, said that HCA does not dictate clinical policy to its facilities and physicians can use their own discretion. Anonymous calls to Riverside on three different occasions to different nurses on duty produced three different responses: “We do not offer emergency contraception”, “It depends on the physicians on duty because emergency contraception is an ethical issue”, and “We offer emergency contraceptives to women who have been raped.”

Even after the emergency contraceptive, Plan B, was made available for over-the-counter purchase, women must still run through a gamut of hurdles to get it. Plan B is kept behind the pharmacists’ counter rather than in the aisles. Women must still ask the pharmacist or pharmacy clerks for it, and they still have the right to refuse to sell Plan B in an arbitrary and capricious manner even though no prescription is required for women over the age of 17. Pharmacists and their assistants have lied to women requesting Plan B, saying that it is not in stock or that the pharmacy does not carry it, even when it is in stock. Recently, a study showed that many pharmacists deliberately deny Plan B to teens when they present a prescription from their doctor.

Yet, men seeking to get prescriptions for Viagra filled or seeking to buy condoms have no difficulty getting what they need to ensure that they’re able to have “recreational” sex — whether in committed relationships, extra-marital affairs, one-night-stands, with or without a woman’s consent. While pregnancy and childbirth pose serious risks to women’s health and lives and change their bodies in irrevocable ways, no man has ever been maimed or died from the inability to get an erection.

Directive 36, handed down by the Vatican, states that in the case of sexual assault, a woman may receive emergency contraception from a Catholic provider. But many Catholic facilities refuse to provide it anyway while others require a full medical exam and pregnancy test, delaying access to Plan B beyond the time it would be effective.

Teresa Harrison, project manager at IBIS Reproductive Health, a non-profit research organization, says, “There is no enforcement of laws requiring hospitals to provide emergency contraception in cases of rape. Without enforcement, there are no incentives for hospitals to abide by the law.”

Although the medical establishment and science defines “pregnancy” as implantation of a fertilized egg, religious extremists define it at conception; the second the sperm meets the egg. Arizona lawmakers now are trying to define it as two weeks prior to conception — a belief held by Father Frank Pavone of Priests for Life and PersonhoodUSA.

In August 2002 the “Emergency Contraception in Catholic Hospital Emergency Rooms” study conducted by Catholics for a Free Choice, only 167 of the then-597 US-based Catholic hospitals offered emergency contraception to rape victims. This same study also reports that Catholic hospitals provide health care to 1 in 5 people across the US.

According to the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, approximately 25,000 women in the US get pregnant each year from rape. The actual toll may be higher, since 54% of all sexual assaults go unreported to the police, 97% of all rapists never spend a day in jail, and 38% of all rapists were a friend or acquaintance of the victim.[9]

Harrison says that most Catholic hospitals align with the views of their local bishop. Access to emergency contraception for rape victims, tubal ligations following C-section or after a difficult childbirth, and even life-saving abortions where a pregnant woman is “bleeding out” or women with a high risk of dying from other pregnancy complications (eclampsia, placenta previa, placental abruption, cardiomyopathy, pulmonary hypertension, etc.) — women will be denied care and die, not because there’s a lack in medical technology and medicines, but solely for being female and pregnant depending on the views of a bishop and the “moral beliefs” of the ER physician, SANE’s, and nurses.

Although scientists, doctors, the ACOG, the AMA, and state health departments tried to clarify differences between Mifepristone (RU-486, the abortion pill) and Plan B, anti-woman Christian groups like Americans United for Life, Personhood USA, and Priests for Life continue to spread false information and lies that Plan B “kills babies.”

None of them care, however, that pregnancy and childbirth is very physically and emotionally traumatic even under the best of circumstances and wreaks havoc on women’s bodies and psyches and can sometimes even kill perfectly healthy women — women’s lives don’t matter. Dr. Gene Rudd, associate executive director of the Christian Medical Association, wrote in the Annals of Pharmacotherapy that “scientific evidence indicates that the drug works in part by preventing a developing embryo from attaching to the uterine wall, leaving it to pass out of the mother’s body and die.”

In 2004 in Denton, Texas, Eckerd pharmacist Gene Herr and two colleagues refused to fill a prescription for Plan B for a traumatized rape victim, and demoralized her. Herr is a “hero” in anti-woman circles.

In Faben, Texas a few weeks after the Denton incident involving Gene Herr, the small town’s only pharmacist and a self-described “Christ follower” Steve Mosher refused to fill the birth control prescription of a married woman who had just recently given birth a few weeks prior. The woman and her husband had to drive 40 miles roundtrip to El Paso to get her prescription filled.[10]

In July 2006, an 18 year old rape victim in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania was denied Plan B by the ER doctor on duty at Good Samaritan Hospital. He refused to write her a prescription because of his “religious beliefs.” The victim was forced to “beat the clock” in getting a prescription from her gynecologist only to then find that the one and only pharmacy in her area that carried Plan B was all out.

Through physical force and violence (including the use of drugging victims against their knowledge), rapists deprive women of the right to have control over their own bodies. Since emergency contraception is only effective if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, Plan B is time-sensitive and that requires that women have immediate access to it. Women have a basic human right to reclaim control over their bodies after a traumatic rape by having the ability to choose whether or not they get pregnant and suffer more trauma, pain and risk dying as a result of that rape.

Although Plan B was eventually approved by the FDA for over-the-counter sale, women (especially young women) are still denied access, thus women’s human rights have been subordinated to rapists’ sperm under the guise of “religious liberty.”

According to the Duvall Project[11], only 47% of Pennsylvania hospital emergency rooms offer information about or directly provide emergency contraception to rape victims as part of a basic standard of care. The CARE Act — Senate Bill 990 and House Bill 2159 — is critical Pennsylvania state legislation that would protect the human rights of rape victims by ensuring that rape victims get comprehensive medical care, including emergency contraception, when they present at emergency rooms.

But “religious liberty” was once again used to rob women of their human rights by state lawmakers whose amendments to the CARE Act added a religious facilities exception creating two classes of rape victims: One group would get comprehensive care including access to emergency contraception while the other group of rape victims would be denied that care because they were unlucky enough to be taken by ambulance to a Catholic hospital or living in a region where the only hospital was a religiously affiliated facility that does not believe that women deserve comprehensive care, giving extra reproductive rights to rapists at the expense of their victims.[12]

No woman should be forced to suffer additional emotional and physical trauma of an unwanted and medically risky pregnancy after a rape and given inferior medical treatment because of medical facilities’ or individual practitioners’ religious beliefs. Sexual assault is dehumanizing. For survivors to regain their sense of self-worth and control over their bodies, which serves the common good for all in society, comprehensive care should not take a back seat to someone else’s religion or “moral beliefs.”

Ensuring that rape victims are able to get emergency contraception helps survivors regain a sense of control over their own bodies and lives following sexual assault. The FDA approval for over-the-counter sales of Plan B has only removed a small portion of the barriers for women who have been raped. Women under 17 still need a prescription.

In rural areas like Erie County where the nearest Planned Parenthood is two hours’ drive away in Ohio which does not accept Pennsylvania (or any other state’s) Medicaid, women still have difficulty getting to a pharmacy that will sell it since this item is still kept behind pharmacy counters where the on-duty pharmacy staff takes control away from women by capriciously refusing to sell it to them — with or without a prescription. The price of emergency contraceptives ranges from $50 to $250 for a single dose. This leaves poor women without resources and a car in rural regions like Erie County, Pennsylvania without adequate remedy at law.

Although the City of Erie has a family planning clinic, Adagio Health, which provides some limited birth control options, Adagio will not provide emergency contraception or referrals for emergency contraception or abortion, no matter what the woman’s circumstance is.

This allows strangers to use their conscientious refusal rights to legally act as collaborators and accomplices with rapists in the commission of sexual/reproductive violence against women and girls — turning poor rural parts of the state into de facto government-approved open-air rape gulags. This scenario is common across the US.

The basic human rights to bodily autonomy and bodily integrity should never be framed as a social class privilege that only some people deserve based on socio-economic status, gender, race, or geography at the whim of strangers whose bodies and lives are not 100% at risk in unwanted and/or medically dangerous pregnancies — especially as a result of rape. Meanwhile, several Congressmen have pushed laws forward that redefine “rape” to further disenfranchise rape victims.

What other subgroup of the population is it acceptable to strip of their dignity and basic human rights in the name of “religious liberty” or “states’ rights?”

A more recent study in 2011 conducted by Dr. Tracey Wilkinson[13], a general pediatrics fellow at Boston Medical Center/Boston University School of Medicine revealed that although it’s legal for 17 year olds to get emergency contraception (and those younger with prescriptions), pharmacy employees are misinforming teens by telling them they’re not allowed to get it, or saying that they don’t carry it even when it is in stock behind pharmacy counters. Wilkinson’s study showed that 1 in 5 young women are denied emergency contraception on the whim of pharmacy staff.

For this study, researchers posing as 17 year old girls and doctors seeking help for 17 year old patients called every pharmacy in five US cities asking about the availability and accessibility of emergency contraception. All callers asked questions from a script. The results showed that 19% of the 17 year olds were told that they couldn’t get it under any circumstances while only 3% of the doctors were told the same thing. Pharmacy staff gave the wrong information 43% of the time.

Wilkinson’s study shows there seems to be a deliberate attempt to force teen girls into unwanted pregnancies because of “moral beliefs” about teen girls and sex, regardless if the sex is consensual of not. Despite this, US Department of Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius invoked her authority to overrule the FDA’s recommendation to make emergency contraception available without a prescription to young women under age 17 even though most maternal deaths from complications during pregnancy or childbirth occur at both ends of the maternal age spectrum: girls under 20 and women over 35.

According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, approximately 750,000 girls between the ages of 15 and 19 become pregnant every year and 85% of those pregnancies are unintended. The September-October 2007 issue of Ambulatory Pediatrics published a study by Dr. Elizabeth Miller and her research colleagues which showed that 26% of the teen girls studied responded that their partners actively tried to get them pregnant against their will by manipulating condom use, sabotaging the girls’ contraceptive use, and lying (“I’m sterile”), or making explicit statements about wanting to make the girls pregnant. Dr. Miller recalled one girl who came to her clinic for a pregnancy test and emergency contraception after the test showed negative for pregnancy — the girl was thrown down a flight of stairs by her boyfriend two weeks later. The micro mirrors the macro.

Nearly every sex education program fails to address the problem of forced pregnancy by abusive males who are using their penises like a loaded weapon to abuse, dominate, and utterly destroy women in our culture of impunity.

Dr. Elizabeth Miller’s newest study published in the January 2010 issue of the journal Contraception showed that 74% of women aged 18-49 reported having experienced some form of reproductive abuse, including forced unprotected intercourse, refusal to withdraw as promised, the sabotaging of condoms, flushing birth control pills down the toilet, and removing contraceptive patches and rings. Women who did become pregnant as a result were coerced or forced into going along with their partners’ wishes, who in some cases threatened to kill them if they got an abortion. These figures are consistent from clinic to clinic.[14]

Not one law has been passed to criminally prosecute men who cause injury, disability or death to women through the reproductive abuse of forced pregnancy and birth.

The US has a higher maternal death rate than 40 other countries. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that two-thirds of maternal deaths in the US go unreported or are misclassified. Only 24 states have mandatory reporting laws for adverse pregnancy/childbirth/post-partum events. For each death, there are about 50 instances of complications related to pregnancy or childbirth that are life-threatening or cause permanent damage; and the “near misses”— including kidney failure, respiratory distress syndrome, shock, and the need for blood transfusions and ventilation — rose 25% from the late 1990’s to 2005. [15]

The percentage of unreported or misclassified maternal deaths was particularly high for women at the extremes of maternal age distribution. Half of all maternal deaths among teenagers and more than half of all maternal deaths among women over age 35 were misclassified or unreported. The US currently has no uniform method for reporting maternal deaths, something which certified midwife Ina May Gaskin brought attention to. The leading causes of maternal death — which is defined as all deaths causally related to pregnancy and childbirth — are hemorrhage, pulmonary hypertension, amniotic embolism, air embolism, and pregnancy/childbirth related cardiovascular disorder.

A pregnant woman or a woman who has recently given birth is more likely to die as the result of a cardiovascular disorder than any other cause. 6 out of 10 maternal deaths among 14-19 year olds were caused by cardiovascular disorder.

The lack of complete reporting of maternal deaths has led to misconceptions regarding the magnitude of the problem of maternal mortality. The findings of the underreporting of maternal deaths report compiled by Isabelle Horon with the Vital Statistics Administration of Maryland also reveal that a larger portion of maternal deaths from pregnancy complications in women who had not yet delivered were unreported, and deaths among this subgroup of pregnant women represented 19.3% of all maternal deaths for which the time of death was known.[16]

In March 2010, Amnesty International released its own report, “Deadly Delivery”, on the increasing maternal death rate in the US, which is double those in Canada, Britain and Western Europe — all countries in which women have wide access to birth control and safe, legal medical abortion These are all countries whose abortion rates are far lower than those in the US.

There is no question that an increasing lack of access to contraceptives, abortion, and voluntary sterilization due to the tremendous political and financial clout used by religious lobbies like the USCCB and the increased power over public policy have not only contributed to high maternal mortality and morbidity rates and the skewing of these statistics (which are used to justify legislation and shape public policy), but have also acted in synergy with deeply institutionalized misogyny to deprive women of human rights — in the name of “religious liberty” and “moral beliefs” — while actively promoting a de facto state establishment of religious policies that impact the public in violation of the spirit of the US Constitution.

Regarding maternal death and extreme misery and suffering that could be easily avoided through better access to contraception, sterilization, and abortion, Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, responded by saying, “Only God has absolute dominion over human life.” He cites scripture to support mother-killing and the deprivation of women’s human rights: “None of us lives as his own master and done of us dies as his own master.” (Romans 14:7)

On his website, Pavone states: “This is also the reason contraception is wrong. God’s dominion over human life does not begin at conception. It begins in eternity” and he cites the same Biblical verse that undergirds the Christian patriarchy movement known as Quiverfull: “Happy the man who has filled his quiver with arrows!” (Psalm 127:5)

Lisa Metzger of the Quiverfull movement says, regarding her thoughts on the high risk of maternal death and morbidity within the Christian patriarchy community, that she is “obeying by giving God the keys to my womb…It’s his domain to create life!”

Regarding abortion, contraception, or sterilization to preserve a woman’s health or save her life, even if that life-threatening pregnancy was the result of a rape and even if her death will leave orphaned children, Metzger cites scripture to justify compulsory maternity at all costs: “No man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him…” (Psalm 49:7) and “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this little thing, why worry about the rest? O you of little faith!” (Luke 12:25, Jesus speaking)

The proliferation of “pro-lifers” and Christians into the medical field, particularly in obstetrics and gynecology, is leaving more women than ever before unable to obtain birth control to defend their bodies from medically dangerous and/or unwanted pregnancies. Women need to ensure their doctor’s or pharmacist’s religious or “moral” beliefs won’t cost them their lives or deprive them of full reproductive health care. Googling some examples of anti-contraception/anti-abortion physicians turned up some interesting results regarding doctors who read a book by Randy Alcorn:

“No pro-life physician can rightly prescribe birth control pills after reviewing this data. I have started circulating this information.”  ~ Randall Martin, MD, Chairman, Department of Anesthesiology, Columbia Willamette Valley Medical Center

“Scientific papers suggest that escape ovulation occurs 4-15% of all cycles in patients taking birth control pills. Thus, as this book points out, early chemical abortions are a real concern.” ~ Paddy Jim Baggot, MD, OB/GYN, Fellow of the American College of Medical Genetics

“In this challenging book Randy Alcorn has the honesty to face a tough and uncomfortable question. The compelling evidence will make you rethink the question of birth control.” ~ John Brose, MD, Surgeon

Women need to thoroughly investigate where their doctors, midwives, and pharmacists stand before investing any money and trust into a doctor-patient relationship. And this is all the more compelling of a reason why Title X funding should be increased, NOT decreased, for Planned Parenthood — women know that at least there they can get their reproductive health needs met without ugly surprises that could cost them their lives because of a medical professional’s “moral” beliefs.

Doctors, physician assistants, pharmacists, nurse practitioners, SANE’s, and midwives, et al, are products of the same deeply misogynistic society that produced Rush Limbaugh and Rick Santorum. Misogyny runs rampant in the medical community as it does throughout the rest of the social fabric. Abuse of gravid women during labor in delivery rooms by medical professionals is not uncommon.[17] Women have come forward and sued for physical and psychological abuse during childbirth. That abuse includes intimidation, coercion of unnecessary medical procedures, verbal abuse, and denial of adequate pain relief during labor, even during episiotomy repair.[18]

Across the US childbearing women continue to be abused physically and psychologically on a level that would constitute sexual assault and torture under any other context. Women are frequently punished by those in whose hands their health and lives are entrusted for failing to be sufficiently submissive to those in power over them in the top-down authoritarian structure of Western medicine.

Cruelty and abuse against women is reaffirmed and legitimized by the prominence of religious influence in government policy and public affairs. No other group of people is allowed to be tortured, abused, maimed, oppressed, or enslaved in the name of “religious liberty.” Until women are codified into the Constitution as full “persons” and “citizens” that are just as deserving of respect and equal protection of the law as men, and until women are viewed as being human enough for harm against us to matter, it is not safe to be a woman in the US.

Regardless of what faith one professes, a woman’s uterus is not designed to handle unmitigated, endless cycles of pregnancy and childbirth. A 2006 study pointed out that women who bear children at intervals of 18 months or less have a shorter lifespan and more health problems overall.

According to Stephanie Coontz, director of Research and Public Education at the Council on Contemporary Families, anti-contraception groups like Quiverfull and their Catholic counterparts have influenced government policy and laws under the guise of moral beliefs “to the extent that people get in positions of authority and planning — for instance, in the Department of Health & Human Services where they have control over abstinence-only education funds. Then you have choices being made behind closed doors about the options that will be available for everyone.”

R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is considered one of the leading intellectuals of evangelical Christianity in the US. In a December 2005 column in The Christian Post titled, “Can Christians Use Birth Control?” Mohler wrote:

“The effective separation of sex from procreation may be one of the most defining marks of our age — and one of the most ominous. This awareness is spreading among American evangelicals, and it threatens to set loose a firestorm…A growing number of evangelicals are rethinking the issue of birth control — and forcing the hard questions posed by reproductive technologies.”

The intellectual force behind the assault on contraceptives and comprehensive sex education is Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation who worked with Mohler to push a religious agenda centered on taking away women’s rights to self-determination. Rector wrote some of the federal legislation mandating abstinence-only sex education which has not reduced the rates of teen pregnancy. Mohler and Rector admitted to having an agenda of social engineering to force a change in behavior and in the way people think about sex — using the bodies of women and girls as human shields in their ideological war against the life, liberty, justice, and freedom of women.

Cheryl Seelhof and Vyckie Garrison who both left the Quiverfull/Christian patriarchy movement have told how this misogynist ideology masquerading as a religious belief deserving of extra protection played a role in the unreporting/misclassification of maternal mortality and morbidity rates and how the impact of Quiverfull ideology permeates public policy to the detriment of women’s lives. Seelhof said, “My whole family is conservative Christian…my mom and dad are Bush Republicans and subscribe to Rush Limbaugh’s publication.”

One woman who had six children and left Quiverfull told about the Christian patriarchy/Quiverfull communities’ standard practice of concealing maternal deaths from health and government agencies. She was a small Christian news journal publisher. She was told by others in the community not to publish any stories that would reveal the high maternal death rates. “The woman had been told from childhood she could not have children because of her heart problems. She got married and “left it to the Lord” and got pregnant and she and her husband decided to “trust God.” She died in childbirth at home…my columnist asked me not to tell anybody — the husband, the family, all in Bill Gothard’s program — didn’t want anyone to know. Which is typical of these folks. Don’t talk about the women who die in childbirth. Or the ones who attempt VBAC’s against all odds. Don’t get me wrong, I am totally supportive of VBAC’s for most women who have had C-sections, but sometimes it isn’t a good thing…one woman I know, her uterus ruptured along the old C-section scar and she nearly died, had to have blood transfusions, and then had to return home to her large family with a newborn. They don’t talk about the abuse…Many women left this movement and continue to leave, although at great cost. I have worked with women who have had emotional breakdowns and have been institutionalized, who have had to try to make it on their own with no employment background, no references (all their references turned against them when they left), 6-12 children to take care of and exes who refused to pay child support and were protected in that by church men.”

Without the right to control whether or not she gets pregnant or carries an unwanted pregnancy to term, a woman faces a potential life-threatening or health-compromising pregnancy every year from menarche to menopause — for 30 to 40 years of her life, unless a high risk pregnancy or sudden childbirth complication kills her before middle-age like unmitigated childbearing did to 1 in 5 women as recently as 1950; 22 years before the US Supreme Court ruling on Eisenstadt v. Baird (1972) which gave unmarried women the right to birth control access regardless of marital status.

To deny women the right to prevent or terminate an unwanted or medically risky pregnancy is to consequently deny her all basic human rights. It’s not a separate issue. It’s not a “special interest” issue. It’s not a frivolous issue. Not if one is a woman. It affects everything in her life. The right to determine what happens to your own body, the fundamental human rights of bodily autonomy and bodily integrity, are the sine qua non of ALL rights — including the right to “freedom of religion.”

If women’s human rights can be discarded, ignored, or postponed, then lawmakers are once again placing issues that directly and specifically relate to men at the top. There is no democracy or fairness in any sense of the word if double standards drive the issues. Democracy, freedom, and justice for only half the population but not the other is real no freedom or justice at all.

Throughout history, women have always been involved in the fight for labor (primarily benefiting white males), for the abolition of slavery, for the end of Jim Crow, for Civil Rights, and for LGBT rights. But as a class, women are still without equal rights as persons and citizens, or even basic human rights to our own bodies and lives. That is what is so patently wrong.

Don’t think that writing laws on any issue that brushes women aside by making men the default “normal” and therefore making women invisible, is something that can be “fixed” to include or benefit women later. That rarely, if ever, happens.

The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was defeated in 1980. Women still do not have explicit citizen rights and personhood status protection, or even basic human rights in this country. What does it say about women’s status in this country if less than half the states supported an amendment for equal rights that many men claim women already have? Why not just pass the ERA? Unless the reason perhaps is that most men really don’t want women to have basic human rights.

If women have no rights to self-determination and bodily autonomy, then the economy, jobs, education, infrastructure, defense, religious liberty, and all the rest no longer matters.


[1] http://abcnews.go.com/WN/Media/church-excommunicates-nun-authorized-emergency-abortion-save-mothers/story?id=10799745#.T4J2TdVX3As ; “Nun Excommunicated After Saving a Mother’s Life With Abortion”, Dan Harris and Claudia Morales, CBS News, June 1, 2010

[2] Angela M. Foster, Amanda Dennis, and Fiona Smith, IBIS Reproductive Health Study 2009, National Women’s Law Center; http://www.nwlc.org/resource/below-radar-fact-sheet-religious-refusals-treat-pregnancy-complications-put-women-danger

[3] Lori R. Freedman, PhD, Uta Landy, PhD, and Jody Steinauer, MD, “When There’s a Heartbeat: Miscarriage Management in Catholic-Owned Hospitals”, peer reviewed, American Journal of Public Health, October 2008, vol. 98, No. 10

[4] Lori R. Freedman, PhD and Debra Stulberg, MD: “Standards in Conflict: How Catholic healthcare doctrine interacts with OB/GYN physician practice.”

[5] Freedman and Stulberg interview with Dr. Gwen Patterson, OB/GYN at Sierra Vista Regional Health Center in Sierra Vista, Arizona, November 17th 2010. (Sierra Vista is the only hospital in this rural Arizona three-county area situated near the Mexican-US border.)

[7] Health Care Refusals: Undermining Quality Care for Women, 2010; National Health Law Program, Los Angeles, CA

[8] “States of Denial”, Abby Christopher, Women’s World, Aug 18th 2004; http://www.wworld.org/crisis/crisis.asp?ID=455

[10] “Denial of rape victim’s pills raises debate”, Associated Press, Feb 24th 2004

[12] Memorandum to Pennsylvania Senate from Larry Frankel, Legislative Director of PA ACLU; Oct 6th 2006 (re: Senate Bill 990); http://www.aclupa.org/downloads/MemotoPASenateDB990.pdf

[13] “Pharmacies deter teens from Plan B, study shows”, Linda Carroll, http://vitals.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/03/26/10834545-pharmacies-deter-teens-from-plan-b-study-shows

[14] “When Teen Pregnancy is No Accident”, Lynn Harris, The Nation, May 24th 2010; http://www.thenation.com/article/when-teen-pregnancy-no-accident

[15] “Maternal Deaths in the United States: A Problem Solved or a Problem Ignored?”, Ina May Gaskin, CPM, MA, The Journal of Perinatal Education, v. 17(2); Spring 2008

[16] Isabelle L. Horon, Dr. PH, “Underreporting of Maternal Deaths on Death Certificates and the Magnitude od the Problem of maternal Mortality”, American Journal of Public Health, March 2005; v.95(3):478-482.

[18] Catherine Skol v. Scott Pierce, MD, OB/GYN, Rush University Medical Center (2009), “Defendant Pierce told nurse LeJeune Dixon-Pickett that Plaintiff  Skol ‘deserved to feel pain’.”

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28 Responses to “Why Personhood and Equal Rights for Women is a Life and Death Matter and a Human Rights Issue”

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  3. Xena Says:

    If men got pregnant society would be fully cognizant of these problems. Abortion would be available at convenience stores and drive thrus. They like to call women “weak” and “inferior” and then want to FORCE us to go through all this crap?

    • Jacqueline S. Homan Says:

      They not only want to force us to go through all this crap, they want to do so without even making it worth our while. There is NO redeeming value to going through it in a stupid and cruel society that doesn’t respect women or appreciate us if we have no ornamental “value” as defined and determined by a nation of “shallow Hals.”

      According to Shelley Lubben, an ex-porn star, the majority of porn consumers are white Christian males. What woman wants to have sex with the man whose children she risked her life, her health and sacrificed her body to bear, only to be made to feel like she’s not good enough if she can’t compete with the slim, trim, cellulite-free 20-year old porn stars with perky breasts and flat bellies that her husband or boyfriend would rather “get off” to?

      The website Shape of a Mother is full of women’s stories of post-partum depression exacerbated by the additional emotional pain and anguish over their post-partum bodies and how their boyfriends or husbands made them feel even worse about their bodies by using porn during their post-partum recovery period (six weeks MINIMUM) during which sex is off limits until a woman’s body heals from giving birth. Women poured out their pain from being told by friends, family members, spouses and partners that “having a baby is no excuse for letting yourself go.”

      Imagine how that makes women feel whose bodies can’t just “snap right back” to what they were as if they’d never been pregnant and given birth.

      I won’t even date a man who looks at porn because that tells me he wants an ornament for his convenience instead of a real person to have a real relationship with whose needs and feelings are just as important as his.

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  6. recursivereturn Says:

    I read your post/comment (on a different site, which hyper-linked me to this blog) that makes the case for a individualist/property rights based logical argument in favor of a woman’s right to choose – I found it very logical.

    I had been reading up a lot on property rights and the current structure of intellectual property rights (I think, I am pretty much a anarcho-libertarian-individualist there). While doing so, I also came across this issue (woman’s right to choose) and was not quite sure how to rationalize the “rights of the mother versus rights of the baby” argument – in-fact it started to seem to me that the “anti-choice” argument would have to be considered the winner because of this argument.

    However, reading your posts has provided a logical pivot that makes more sense to me now.

    From what I’ve understand, you are stating that this is a “host/dependent” type association – with significant implications on both the host and the dependent – therefore, if we really believed in freewill the we have to leave it to the actual parties involved and not impose a mandate. For most people, though, I think, because they have been hardwired to mix contemporary morality into what should be a logic driven argument – this understanding would seem wrong.

    Great work. good luck with all things interesting.

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